The Census Bureau is changing its annual survey, making it difficult to measure the impact of the Affordable Care Act. As the NYT reports:
An internal Census Bureau document said that the new questionnaire included a ‘total revision to health insurance questions” and, in a test last year, produced lower estimates of the uninsured. Thus, officials said, it will be difficult to say how much of any change is attributable to the Affordable Care Act and how much to the use of a new survey instrument.’
The questionnaire traditionally used by the Census Bureau provides an “inflated estimate of the uninsured” and is prone to “measurement errors,” said a working paper by statisticians and demographers at the agency. In the test last year, the percentage of people without health insurance was 10.6 percent when interviewers used the new questionnaire, compared with 12.5 percent using the old version. Researchers said that they had found a similar pattern in the data for different age, race and ethnic groups.
So, just to get things straight…the old questionnaire was acceptable when it overstated the magnitude of the problem. It is abandoned following reform so that it will be difficult to assess the impact of the Affordable Care Act against the historical data set. As Frederick Fleet might have said: “Didn’t see that one coming.”
Update: For an interesting piece on disappearing data, read Robert Samuelson (“Give Us Back Our Statistical Data”) in WaPo.